Multiple Sclerosis (MS) affects an estimated 2.1 million people worldwide. This chronic and disabling condition has been receiving increased media attention in recent weeks. As an assisted living and residential care provider you may be called upon to care for residents who have MS. For this reason it is important that you and your staff have an understanding of what it is, and the care needs associated with the condition.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society:
Multiple sclerosis (or MS) is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another. Today, new treatments and advances in research are giving new hope to people affected by the disease.
MS is Thought to be an Autoimmune Disease
The body’s own defense system attacks myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers in the central nervous system. The nerve fibers themselves can also be damaged. The damaged myelin forms scar tissue (sclerosis), which gives the disease its name. When any part of the myelin sheath or nerve fiber is damaged or destroyed, nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted, producing the variety of symptoms that can occur.
Symptoms of MS
Symptoms of MS are unpredictable, vary from person to person, and from time to time in the same person. For example: One person may experience abnormal fatigue and episodes of numbness and tingling. Another could have loss of balance and muscle coordination making walking difficult. Still another could have slurred speech, tremors, stiffness, and bladder problems.
Sometimes major symptoms disappear completely, and the person regains lost functions. In severe MS, people have symptoms on a permanent basis including partial or complete paralysis, and difficulties with vision, cognition, speech, and elimination.
What medications and treatments are available?
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society recommends that a person consider treatment with one of the FDA-approved “disease-modifying” drugs as soon as possible following a definite diagnosis of MS with active or relapsing disease. These drugs help to lessen the frequency and severity of MS attacks, reduce the accumulation of lesions (areas of damage) in the brain, and may slow the progression of disability.
In addition to drugs that address the basic disease, there are many therapies for MS symptoms such as spasticity, pain, bladder problems, fatigue, sexual dysfunction, weakness, and cognitive problems. People should consult a knowledgeable physician to develop a comprehensive approach to managing their MS.